Video Game Graphics Or Art Style. Which Is More Important?

graphics_showcase

The more I wrote on this the more my own argument grew and shifted.  This began as an attack on the gaming industries obsession with graphical fidelity, in particular from a hardware point of view.  It ended as an appreciation of how powerful art style can be.    Please stick with me…

Is it just me or is anyone else a little tired with the current intensive focus on graphical fidelity in games?  I have no problem with incredible graphics.  But I do have a problem with the focus being placed too heavily on them over gameplay.  With the recent release of the Playstation 4 Pro I’ve been disheartened to see the focus of future hardware improvements to be entirely graphical focused.

The search for “better” graphics has always existed in video games.  As you trace the evolution of video games through the years it becomes instantly apparent that many of the biggest changes we’ve seen have been graphical.  I say changes here rather than improvements.  The graphical improvements do not make a better game.

graphics art style zelda wind waker

Re releases of games, where is their focus?

In the past couple of years we have seen a significant extra focus put on game graphics.  This has been particularly noticeable with re releases of games.  These generally have seen the exact same titles be released but with enhanced graphics.  These games have had a lot of time and effort spent on them to upgrade their graphics.  Rarely is any attempt made to add anything else but better graphics.  With resources undoubtedly tight for developers it seems a shame to put all man power available into graphics and little to no one into other areas.  If some of the re releases featured additional levels, characters, game modes etc I would be far more eager to play them than the same game with slightly improved graphics.  

With 4K, HDR, 1080P, 60 fps being the standard that all games seem to be aiming for what are we missing out on?  If the incredibly talented developers out there were putting less time into the graphics and more into gameplay what would we now be playing?  With a greater focus on art style can’t we then expect more time given to gameplay?

video game art style graphics

Graphics and art style

Personally I put a lot more value in the art style than the quality of the graphics.  To me most of the most visually appealing games don’t stick with me because of how good they look but because of how iconic they look.  You could even argue that making games with memorable art style is harder to achieve than simply high quality graphics.  

You could probably show a selection of screenshots from modern, “high graphical quality games” and struggle to name which game they are from.  They look incredible, but they all look the same.  

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However, if you were to do the same thing with games with a strong art style it would be incredibly easy to name the game.  Games such as Inside, Overwatch, Journey, Bound, Fez, Transistor, Valiant Hearts and Splatoon have a greater emphasis on art style than graphical showmanship.  The result of this are beautiful, memorable experiences that stick with me far more than any 4K, HDR, 60 frames shenanigans.

Incredible graphics don’t make for a bad experience.  Bad gameplay does, normally.  So why might there be a divide between the quality of the graphics and the quality of the gameplay?  Is it possible to have a game with intensely high graphical quality and incredible gameplay?  

witcher 3 graphics

Looking into the past considering graphics/art style

If you look back in time at the games that have really stood the test of time it is not for their graphics, but their gameplay.  Here I’m not comparing the graphics of games in the past against now but against other games at the time.  

Look at something like Tetris.  Tetris is about as low quality graphics as you can get.  It is a pure gameplay experience and the world loves it because of this.  To improve the graphics in Tetris would likely spoil the gameplay.  It is at it’s best when it is plain and easy to play.

mario graphics art style

Other older games such as the Mario series have relied far more upon their art style than getting the highest definition Mario onto our screens.  The 3DS has proven how gameplay is more important to many players than graphics (see our article on the popularity of the 3DS).  

Games such as Castlevania, Metroid, Mega Man all put more effort on their gameplay than their graphics.  When those games were being designed, created and tested the focus was far more on how they played than how they looked.

art style fez graphics

Looking at the present considering graphics/art style

This year you know that gameplay has received less attention than graphics in games such as Uncharted 4, Battlefield 1, The Witcher 3 and Gears of War 4.  That’s not to say they aren’t fun to play, characters, story and sound all play a huge part of creating the full experience of playing and enjoying a game.  

This year we’ve also seen the release of the Playstation 4 Pro.  A console marketed purely on what it can do to improve the graphics of many of the games listed above.  It does not allow for any new or improved gameplay experiences, just better looking ones.  

This year’s game of the year was recently revealed as Overwatch.  This provides a perfect example of, in my opinion, a game that gets it all right.  A beautiful, iconic art style, slick graphics and incredible gameplay.  Blizzard took a long, long time to create Overwatch and when you play it you can be sure that this time wasn’t spent obsessing over how it would look in 4K as opposed to High Definition.  The time was spent getting the gameplay as damn near perfect as they could.  

overwatch art style graphics

Looking into the future considering graphics/art style

The release of the Playstation 4 Pro is probably what prompted me to write this.  Sony have released 3 significant new pieces of hardware recently; the Playstation 4 Slim, the Playstation 4 Pro and Playstation VR.  To my mind the only one of these that should matter to the future of gaming is the Playstation VR.  This puts a fresh focus on gameplay over graphics, unlike the Pro console.  

The Playstation Pro’s marketing campaign puts its existence solely down to graphics.  There is nothing that it gives the gaming community other than higher quality graphics.  Is this really what console development is going to become now?  

cuphead graphics

What is my point?

I guess my point is that I hope that developers begin to spread the attention.  The graphical quality of video games is important, but it is not the most important aspect of them.  I would love to see games try to win over players by touting about how good the gameplay is and not how many frames per second it runs at.  I hope the next line of consoles is advertised by the games and not just by lengthy lists boasting their graphical quality.  A greater focus on art style and gameplay is far preferable.

Looking to the future I’m particularly looking forward to seeing what the Nintendo Switch is like.  Nintendo have chosen again to create a platform that is not putting graphics as its number one concern.   I’ve been invited to a UK reveal and hands on session and will, of course, be sharing my thoughts here.  

What are your views on video game graphics?  What games do you feel have an art style that has stuck with you?  Let us know in the comments below.

beautiful graphics art style

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